Southside company using artificial intelligence to make railways safer

After Ohio train derailment, transportation secretary says, ‘Steps that Norfolk Southern and its peers lobbied against were intended to improve rail safety and to help keep Americans safe’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter Sunday to the CEO of Norfolk Southern, warning that the freight rail company must “demonstrate unequivocal support for the people” of East Palestine, Ohio, and surrounding areas after a fiery train derailment led to the release of chemicals and residents expressing concerns about their health.

Buttigieg said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the derailment and that the Federal Railroad Administration is also analyzing whether safety violations occurred and will hold Norfolk Southern accountable if violations did occur.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said the company must document the release of hazardous contaminants and outline cleanup actions.

But Buttigieg also said that Norfolk Southern and other rail companies “spent millions of dollars in the courts and lobbying members of Congress to oppose common-sense safety regulations, stopping some entirely and reducing the scope of others.” He said the effort undermined rules on brake requirements and delayed the phase-in for more durable rail cars to transport hazardous material to 2029, instead of the “originally envisioned date of 2025.”

The transportation secretary said the results of the investigation are not yet know, but “we do know that these steps that Norfolk Southern and its peers lobbied against were intended to improve rail safety and to help keep Americans safe.”

While not nearly as severe, Jacksonville has also seen chemical tankers retail along railroad tracks — like in 2019 when tanker cars carrying ethanol overturned along CSX tracks on the Northside and fell into the Cedar River, but no one was injured and CSX said no leaks or spills were detected.

In 2014, on the tracks under the Acosta Bridge, a Norfolk Southern train tanker car derailed, the same company that is involved in the Ohio incident. It was holding 28,000 gallons of ethanol, a highly flammable liquid. In that incident, News4JAX was told only a few gallons seeped out. Still, employees working in the area were evacuated for safety reasons, but no one was injured.

There is a company on Jacksonville’s Southside — Duos Technologies — that is trying to improve railroad safety.

A promotional video from the company shows its rail car inspection portal. It works by using cameras, computers and artificial intelligence to scan rail cars and tankers as they move through a particular area. It can detect if there is a potential problem, and the rail companies are then informed.

This is being used by some railroads in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.